HIGHS AND LOWS FOR TEAM ABU DHABI ON FINAL DAY OF SEASON IN WALES
Best ever WRC season for Al Qassimi as Abu Dhabi Junior Al Jabri claims third in first full season
WALES, 25 October, 2009: Unbelievable tension on the final day of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in Wales with both the WRC Drivers' Championship and Fiesta Sporting Trophy international (FSTi) titles up for grabs. Abu Dhabi's hopes were resting on the twin-pronged assault of Mikko Hirvonen's BP Ford Abu Dhabi challenge in the WRC and emirati Junior Driver - Bader Al Jabri's - push for an overall podium finish in his maiden FSTi season.
The final day of the season didn't disappoint with unbelievable drama to the very last, and highs and lows in equal measure for the Abu Dhabi rally programme. Hirvonen's limits were stretched to the max on the slippery Welsh gravel tracks and he eventually saw his title hopes slip away on the penultimate stage of the rally as the bonnet of his Ford Focus came open mid-stage leading to an unassailable 60 second gap between him and Sebastian Loeb. Despite pushing his Ford to the limits, the time gap was just too much to make up, and the Drivers' Championship went for the sixth time to the French legend.
Meanwhile in the FSTi, Team Abu Dhabi star Bader Al Jabri was flying the flag for Abu Dhabi, proving the value of consistency over time with a stunning third place to leave him third overall and on the podium in his debut FSTi season. After seeing his two emirati teammates, Majed Al Shamsi and Ahmed Al Mansoori, roll their cars in successive incidents on Saturday, Al Jabri was the sole remaining Abu Dhabi Junior driver in the FSTi. The young rally ace didn't disappoint as he maintained his consistent performance with another virtuoso display on the Welsh gravel to claim the priceless podium finish. Meanwhile Al Mansoori and Al Shamsi finished the season in highly impressive fifth and sixth positions respectively.
"I am really pleased with the way in which Bader has handled himself both here in Wales but also throughout the year," said Abu Dhabi Junior Team Director Ron Cremen. "He has shown superb consistency throughout the season and fully deserves to finish in the top three. It is incredible to think that at the start of the year we'd have been very happy to have had one of the Juniors finish in the top six. So to have third, fifth, and sixth place finishes overall in our first season is incredible and testimony to the success of the programme and the fantastic support that it receives from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority".
Al Jabri was delighted with his third place Championship finish: "I am overwhelmed by my final result - I would never have imagined that I would be in this position a year ago. The season has been such a fantastic opportunity to learn and develop - the ADTA has given us the chance to prove that we can drive, and I can't wait for next year".
The Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers' mentor, BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Khaled Al Qassimi, finished Rally GB in 20th place overall with his co-driver Michael Orr. The WRC duo put in a series of scorching times throughout Saturday and Sunday's stages to move up over 30 positions following their early retirement on Friday. Despite not finishing in the points in Wales, Al Qassimi has enjoyed his best ever season in the WRC with a career-high haul of six points to finish in 12th place in the Drivers' Championship. His sixth place at Rally Greece was also the highest WRC finish of his career.
"I am very pleased with our form over the past two days in Wales", commented Al Qassimi. "We were unlucky with the problem with our drive-shaft on Friday but we have battled hard over the past few days in what are the hardest conditions that I have ever driven in. It has been a long season -- we have performed well and improved a lot. It has been our best year yet and I'm really happy with our overall performance."
The unbelievable drama at the end of the WRC season is just the first in a double-header of dramatic motorsport for Abu Dhabi. Next weekend sees the inaugural Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix take place in the emirate, with UAE motorsport fans hoping that the excitement on Yas Island can mirror that from Wales Rally GB.
"What a season it has been for Abu Dhabi's motorsport fans," commented Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), which is behind the Abu Dhabi world rally programme. "We congratulate Mikko Hirvonen for an incredible season and for pushing the title so close right to the very. It has been the best year ever for our rally programme -- not only Mikko's performance but a career-best finish for Khaled Al Qassimi and an incredible maiden year in the FSTi for the Abu Dhabi Junior team."